Woodlands in the Word Old Testament Devotional: March 5-12

Numbers 4 - 18

The early sections of Numbers present a foreboding picture of the work ahead for the Israelites; God calls Moses and Aaron to assemble and number the fighting-aged men by tribe as they prepare to set out from the Sinai Desert and into their conquest for the promised land.  Certainly a heavy feeling of apprehension weighed on the people throughout the camp as they began to witness the preparations for war, as expressed by the text, “If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in this desert!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?” (Numbers 14:2-3).  Though apprehension and uneasiness about their circumstances is understandable, especially considering the reports of the Nephilim (giants) that inhabited the land, the Israelite community chose to rebel in their doubt of God’s promises.

In Chapter 9, we were reminded of the Lord’s command to the community, to observe the Passover in remembrance of the miraculous events that led up to the release of the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians.  How is it that after witnessing these events first-hand, this mistrust and anxiety overwhelmed the community to the point of mutiny against their leaders Moses and Aaron?  God echoes this sentiment in Chapter 14: “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14:11).

From the outside looking in, it seems almost incomprehensible how the Israelites reached this point of lack of trust, despite: the miraculous rescue from Egypt, the manna, water, and quail provided in the desert, and the witnessing of the physical, visible manifestation of God in a pillar of cloud and flame.  Though, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s relatively easy to identify areas where we are mistrusting God’s ability to come through for us according to His will for our lives, despite having experienced His unmatched grace at some other point in our histories.  While our past encounters with God may not have been as dramatic as the miracles listed above, the mindset of mistrust is undeniably tantamount to that of the Israelites.

Though we know the Israelites are eventually victorious and are allowed to enter the land as God fulfills His promise, their plight is extended as a result of their skepticism and disobedience.  What might be some areas where we are holding ourselves back from experiencing the fullness of life that God promises due to a lack of trust in His advocacy for us?

Dear Father,

Help us to turn from our doubts, leaning fully into your promises, confidently trusting in your plan for our lives born out of your uncontainable love for us.

Woodlands in the Word New Testament Devotional: March 5-12

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3)

“In the beginning…” What beginning? Certainly not God’s beginning. God is infinite, eternal, the beginning and the end with no beginning or end (another one of those great paradoxes). But in this beginning we find in Genesis. In the beginning of time and creation. In the beginning of our story, not God’s.

“…was the Word.” Why the Word? Why not Savior, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, or one of the many other names assigned to Jesus?

In light of the context, it makes perfect sense.

In the beginning, the Word spoke and time came into being. The sun took its place in the heavens, the planets were set into orbit, and stars inundated the night sky. By the power of His spoken word, the land, seas and sky were created and filled with life. With a word and a holy breath, He created man in His own image.

“And God said…,” and there was. And He declared it good.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could say, “let there be supper” and there was supper, and we could declare it good? We must “do.” God must only “say.”

You know what’s just as amazing? If we are in Christ, if we are resting in His sacrifice alone for forgiveness of our sins, we have been transformed by the power of the Word. And we have access to all that power through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (Acts 1:8) In Psalm 27:14, David commends us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Just imagine what we could accomplish for God’s kingdom if we walked, moment by moment, by the power of the Word!

 

Dear Father,

Thank you for the power of your Word, not only to bring all things into being, but to change lives. Your strength is perfected in my weakness. Teach me to depend on your power to stand against temptation, to stand firm in my faith, and to, one day, stand in your presence blameless and with great joy.

 

 

Woodlands in the Word Old Testament Devotional: Feb. 26 - Mar. 4

Leviticus 16 - 27, Numbers 1 - 3

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The second half of Leviticus begins with additional instructions from the Lord regarding the Day of Atonement.  At the onset of Chapter 16, we are reminded of the loss of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who violated prior instructions from the Lord as they presented “unauthorized fire”, counter to the prescribed methods of worship.  As severe as this may seem, the text hearkens back to this event reminding us of God’s holy nature, whose presence will not coincide with the existence of sin.  Consequently, God defines the instructions of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to Moses, a piece of which involved the selection of a scapegoat by lot.  

Leviticus 16:21 says, “He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all of the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites — all their sins — and put them on the goat’s head.  He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.”

The goat was to be physically removed from the presence of God and from the people, symbolizing the removal of their sins.  During the temple period, the scapegoat was traditionally led out of the Eastern gate, toward the Mount of Olives, and into the wilderness — Psalms 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so he has removed our transgressions from us.”  Again in Leviticus, we are unequivocally pointed ahead to God’s ultimate plan of restoration for humanity, Jesus’ final atoning work for us resulting in the removal of sin.

Leviticus concludes as several feasts are described by the Lord to be set on particular, recurring dates, several of which were to serve as reminders of the work God had already done to rescue the people from the captivity of the Egyptians (i.e. The Passover, The Feast of Tabernacles).  As many of us have experienced, worry and doubt have an uncanny way of creeping into our lives, even if God has already revealed Himself or allowed us to experience His peace in the midst of similar events in our pasts.  God calls us to set aside time regularly to remember all that He has done for us — if He has been our faithful advocate in the past, carrying us through times of trouble, why would we expect the eternal God to change in the future?  

Dear Father,

Help us to recall the ways you have been present in our story, your faithfulness, and all the ways you have rescued us, so that we may cast off the worry that often plagues our lives.  Thank you for your rescue from our sins in order that we may experience your presence, that we can approach a holy God — Jesus, thank you for taking those sins on yourself, separating them from us ‘as far as the east is from the west.’

Woodlands in the Word New Testament Devotional: Feb. 26 - Mar. 4

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“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

It’s a great question! And it’s as timely today as it was over 2,000 years ago when Jesus first posed it to His disciples and the crowd that had gathered in Mark 8:37.

What will a person give in exchange for his or her own soul? Look around. Look inside. Why do people reject Christ’s offer to free them from sin and its curse of eternal death? Why did we until God took hold of our hearts?

Some people don’t believe they have souls. They live for the moment because they are convinced there’s nothing beyond the grave. Others know they have souls but cash them in for the here and now. They forfeit eternal life for money, power, pleasure, possessions, notoriety, beauty, fitness or whatever takes precedence over God.

The rich young ruler, who we read about in Mark 10, was one such person. He’d kept the letter of the law his whole life. But his heart was where his treasure was, and his treasure was on earth. When Jesus told him to give up his wealth so he could enter God’s kingdom, he went away sad. He couldn’t do it. He loved his money and stuff more than God.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

It’s a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is “nothing.” Money, power, pleasure, possessions, notoriety, beauty, fitness and all the other things of earth are fleeting. No matter how hard we try, we can’t hang onto them. As I once heard Alastair Begg say, “The statistics are in… one out of one dies!” And with death comes the end of all those earthly treasures.

So why are we so prone to run after what we can’t keep? I think it’s pretty simple. We want it! … and the world says, “You need it!”

But God says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) It’s a great paradox. If we live life on our terms, driven by our own wants, for our own purposes, we lose our souls in the end. But if we lay down our lives, let God have control, live for His glory day to day, in the end we gain eternal life and rewards. Which is the greater?

Jim Elliot lived and died by this principle. Sometime before being killed by the very people he and his fellow missionaries were attempting to reach with the gospel, he made this statement. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Dear Father,

My life is not my own. You gave me life and you will take it from me when you think best. I want to live each day for you and to your glory. Help me cling to what’s eternal and find my life, my contentment, and my all in you alone.

Woodlands in the Word Old Testament Devotional: February 19-23

Leviticus 1-15

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The Hebrew title for the book of Leviticus is wayyiqra’, meaning “And He called” — these are the first words of Leviticus 1: “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”.  The book of Leviticus details God’s calling to Moses regarding instructions for worshiping and living in a holy manner.  Without the reparations and cleansing described in the early chapters of Leviticus, God’s presence would be driven out from among his people due to His perfect nature that is completely incompatible with the presence of sin.

In this context, the sacrificial offerings are especially striking when considered as foreshadowing pointing ahead to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; as the blood of perfect bulls, rams, and birds cleansed the Tabernacle and allowed for God’s continued presence within it, so the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice allows for God’s holy presence within us today (His modern dwelling place among His people).

Five main offerings are described at the beginning of Leviticus including the burnt offering, grain offering, fellowship offering, sin offering, and guilt offering.  The fellowship offering described in Chapter 3, sometimes translated as the “peace offering”, serves to illustrate peace between God and man.  God called his people to voluntarily ‘let go’ of an animal in their care without defect (undoubtedly prized possessions in this early agricultural society) in return for fellowship with God resulting in an inner peace unattainable through worldly possessions.  What types of things are we chasing or anticipating to give us inner peace and ‘wholeness’ apart from that which comes from fellowship with God?  What may God be calling us to ‘let go’ of?

Dear Father,

Thank you for Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross, the blood of which cleanses us so that we can experience your holy presence.  Please remind us that you alone will ‘keep us in perfect peace’ (Isaiah 26:3) through fellowship with you.  Search our hearts and help us to recognize those things that may hinder peace between us and give us the strength to let go.

Woodlands in the Word New Testament Devotional: February 19-25

And He (Jesus) was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.” - Mark 7:20

The Pharisees were masters at keeping up appearances. As if the Old Testament law wasn’t complex enough, they’d created a whole set of rules and traditions, called “fence laws,” intended to prevent Jews from breaking the Mosaic law. Their own traditions were so important to them, that they sometimes violated God’s law to keep their own.

Outwardly, the Pharisees looked spiritually healthy. Their lifestyles were above reproach! But inwardly, they had a serious heart condition.

This problem wasn’t unique to the Pharisees. I grew up with fence laws; no cards, movies, dancing, secular music… you get the idea. Maybe you did too, but the rules were different. It can be dangerous! We begin to think that if we follow the rules, keep up appearances, we’re doing okay spiritually. But God knows we sometimes have a serious heart condition.

That’s why Jesus said it’s the stuff that comes from inside that defiles us, makes us unclean. Our choices, our words, our actions are driven by what’s already in our hearts. If they’re corrupt, evil oozes out. If they’re clean, godliness overflows.

Go back to Mark 7:8, when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He tells them this: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He says “commandment” not “commandments.”

I’m no theologian, but I think it’s safe to assume the one commandment Jesus is referring to is the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

When our Savior is the great love of our hearts, He begins changing us from the inside out. He tidies up the defiled heart, room by room. Before long, the driving force behind our words and actions is our desire to honor God. And God is eager to help us! “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)

 

Dear Father,

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight.” (Psalm 19:14). Clean and transform my heart. Keep me from honoring you with my words but having a heart that’s far from you.

Woodlands in the Word Devotional: February 13-20

“And he (Peter) went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75b)

It had only been a few hours since Christ and His disciples had shared the Passover Feast. It had only been a short time since Peter had said, with conviction, that he would never deny Jesus. But as events rapidly unfolded, first at Gethsemane and then in the courtyard, he forgot all the things that had happened earlier in the evening.

It wasn’t until the rooster crowed, after Peter had vehemently sworn he wasn’t one of the disciples, that he remembered Christ’s words: “Before a rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

This was Peter, whose faith allowed him to walk on water. This was Peter, who Christ commended for understanding He was the Messiah, the Son of God. This was Peter, the rock on whom Christ would build His church.

Despite all that, Peter denied Christ three times. The follower who had just declared he would die for his Savior was now afraid, or perhaps ashamed, to be associated with Him.

I can’t be too hard on Peter. I’ve done the same thing. There have been times in my life I’ve said, with heartfelt conviction, that I would die for Christ. There have been other times I’ve distanced myself from my Lord because I was afraid or ashamed to be associated with Him. I’ve acted like I didn’t know Christ at all. Perhaps you’ve done these things, too.

Peter’s response is beautiful. He wept bitterly. Regret and sorrow for denying His Savior overwhelmed him. What’s so beautiful about that?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

I believe Peter’s tears poured out from a repentant heart. Why? Because he didn’t continue down a path leading further and further from his Savior. He turned around and ran back to Christ, who was waiting with open arms. Peter did go on to be the rock on which Christ built the church. And he did, in the end, die for his Savior.

 

Dear Father,

Help me remember, as I face day to day choices, that “You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.” (Psalm 16:2) When I choose poorly, when I sin against you, fill my heart with a godly sorrow that will lead me to repentance. Forgive me and draw me back to You.

Woodlands in the Word Devotional: January 5-9

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“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

In Matthew 22, Jesus was bombarded with questions from religious leaders of His day. They tried to entrap Jesus with a tricky question. But, like a pack of Wile E. Coyotes try to do in the Roadrunner, their plot was foiled!

Finally, in Matthew 22:36, a lawyer asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. If you know anything about the Law, you know it had many, many, many commandments. There were rules to follow, and sacrifices to be made when the rules weren’t followed, and cleansings from illnesses, and ceremonies for special occasions. It was complicated!

But Christ’s answer was simple. He goes back to Deuteronomy, one of the books of the Law, and replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then Christ adds a bonus answer from Leviticus, another book of the law. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Why are these the two greatest commandments? Because they are at the heart of the Jewish Law.

Think about the Ten Commandments (found in Exodus 20:1-17). The first four relate directly to the greatest commandment – to love God more than anything. The last six relate directly to the second greatest commandment – to love others to the same degree you love yourself.

When I love God whole-heartedly, I choose obedience; not out of compulsion but out of my desire to please Him. I want my words and actions to reflect my love for God and His even greater love for me.

When I love God whole-heartedly, I want to treat others well. Because of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness toward me, I want to show love, grace, mercy and forgiveness toward others.

But I gotta be honest here. I don’t always love God whole-heartedly. The flesh rears its ugly head sometimes. I want what I want, even though it’s going to hurt someone else. I want to do what I want to do, even though God says it’s wrong. What do I do then?

Well, if I’ve already sinned, I repent and ask God’s forgiveness. If I haven’t, I ask for strength not to. Then I reset my heart, my soul, and my mind on God. I go to reminders in scripture about who God is and all He’s done on my behalf, like Moses’ words in Exodus 15:2

                                    “The Lord is my strength and song,

                                    And He has become my salvation;

                                    This is my God, and I will praise Him;

My Father’s God, and I will extol Him.”

 

Dear Father,

You are my strength, my song, and my salvation. Thank you for your undying love for me. Help me to live out my love for You by choosing what pleases You and brings You glory. Help me to live out my love for others by treating them with the same regard I expect from them.

Woodlands in the Word Devotional: January 29 -February 2

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“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

When Jesus posed this question to His disciples in Matthew 16:13, they confirmed what Jesus already knew; most people believed He was some sort of prophet.

If you asked the average non-believer that question today, some might respond Jesus was a prophet. Others would say Jesus was a good man or a revered teacher. A few would even say He was a fictitious character.

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus went on to ask.

Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” As Jesus points out in the next verse (Matthew 16:17), Peter didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. God revealed it to him. He opened Peter’s spiritual eyes to see Jesus as the promised Savior.

Sometimes I forget. I’m so eager to see a friend find forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, I forget that I can’t make them see things clearly. I’ll never argue someone into God’s kingdom. I’ll never debate them through heaven’s gates. I cannot, by my own efforts, persuade them Jesus is who He says He is. All I can do (as they taught me in CRU many moons ago) is “share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God.”

My part is to offer the good news, the gospel, to those I rub elbows with. I can set my mind on God’s interests rather than my own (Matthew 16:23). I can mirror Christ’s character, tell them what Jesus has done for me, give them God’s living words, obey when the Holy Spirit nudges me to speak the truth in love. And I can pray.

But only God can break down the barriers keeping a soul from repenting and seeking forgiveness. Only God can soften a hard heart. Only God can open someone’s spiritual eyes to see Christ for who He truly is… the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God… the creator of all things, the King of kings and Lord of lords… the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

 

Dear Father,

Thank you for sending your sacrificial Lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Give me opportunities to tell others they can find forgiveness and peace in You. Give me the boldness and the words to speak when those opportunities come. Open eyes to see and ears to hear the good news.

 

 

 

 

Woodlands in the Word Devotional: January 22-28

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“Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

It seems like a strange question for John the Baptist to ask. After all, John the Baptist was sent by God to proclaim Christ’s coming. Shouldn’t he already know who the Expected One is?

No doubt, in the core of his being, he did know Jesus was the promised Messiah. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I’ve asked myself, “Is Jesus really who He says He is?” I think it’s likely John had one of those moments as he was sitting in prison.

Jesus’ response was beautiful. He didn’t give John the “oh you of little faith” lecture. He didn’t throw up His hands in exasperation. He didn’t fire John and recruit a new prophet. Jesus patiently responded, “Go and report to John what you hear and see; the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4)

Jesus wasn’t just pointing to His miraculous works as evidence of His deity. He was reminding John of the Old Testament prophecies the Expected One would fulfill, prophecies Jesus was fulfilling.

First He referenced Isaiah 35:5. “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy...”

Then Jesus quoted a portion of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;”

In fulfilling these, and many other Old Testament prophecies, Jesus proved Himself the one God had promised to send. But before John’s men left, Jesus had one final word. “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Matthew 11:6)

Jesus came to pay the final price for sin, to bring forgiveness to those who will repent, to give eternal life to the eternally lost. But He knew many would take offense at Him and His message.

For those who reject Him, Jesus is, as Isaiah 8:14 prophesied, “a rock to stumble over.” Or as Paul put it in Romans 9:33, “a rock of offense.”

For those who put their faith in the Expected One, however, Jesus is a rock of refuge, the rock of salvation, and the everlasting rock. How blessed we are if we can say with David, “O Lord my God, in You I have taken refuge.” (Psalm 7:1)

Dear Father,

Thank you for giving Your life to pay the penalty for my sin. Thank you for being the rock where I can always run for refuge from the cares, and hurts, and demands of daily life. I pray that those I know and love will not take offense at You, but will put their trust in You as well.

 

Woodlands in the word Devotional: January 15-21

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“What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  (Matthew 8:27b)

It was a fair question. Christ’s disciples were terrified by the storm that had kicked up at sea. In fact, they were convinced this raging squall would be the death of them all. Jesus was not so concerned. He was taking a nap.

But not for long. After watching Jesus heal the man with leprosy and the centurion’s servant, the disciples had some sense of His power. They knew who to wake up when things got rough! Still, they were amazed when Jesus, by the power of His words, calmed the storm. Jesus spoke and the wind, sea and sky obeyed their Maker’s voice.

Christ is our Maker as well. But we don’t always obey His voice as readily as the storm did. Sometimes we exercise our free will to disobey God. I’m so thankful for His unconditional love and endless mercy! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

But if we are sincere about following Christ, we don’t want to live in disobedience. We want to bring glory to God. We want to invite His blessings. We want to store up treasures in heaven. So how do we keep our eyes on Christ?

By remembering who God is as we worship Him; the one true God who is eternal, all-powerful, holy and just (to name just a few of His attributes). And by remembering who we are. Apart from Christ, we are temporal, powerless and sinful. As Acts 17:28 says “for in Him we live, and move, and exist.”

And by heeding David’s instructions in Psalm 4:4-5.

“Tremble, and do not sin;

Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,

And trust in the Lord.”

 

What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him? According to John 1, He is God. He is the Word who was made flesh and sent to live on earth. He is the originator, the creator, of all things. And He continues to display His glory day to day.

 

Dear Father,

By your power, help me to hear and obey your voice, moment by moment. When I’m tempted to disobey, remind me of Your goodness toward me.

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